The Fall of the Berlin Wall 1989

The media is full of reports about the Fall of the Wall with its commemoration coming up 9 November. Then it will have been twenty years since that fateful announcement was given by an East German official, stating that crossings to the West would be opened without delay. And the flood gates opened.

Thursday, 9 November 1989: I skipped my usual Umdrunk (after-hour drink) with my colleagues to head on home to watch these unbelievable news, some of which had trickled through to our office. Most Germans went home that evening, and got stuck to the TV set, I believe.

I also watched TV and was very moved by these excited faces piling in from the dreary East. I saw the first Trabants (a.k.a.Trabis) coming in, pedestrians hugging and crying, and I was moved to tears myself.

Ronald Reagan, the former U.S. president, will always be remembered for those words he had spoken in Berlin two years earlier:

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

[youtube YtYdjbpBk6A&NR=1]

Quite frankly, I never expected to see this happen in my life time. Americans had gone to the moon, to Vietnam and to other politically interesting spots on the globe, but there had been no interest nor initiative to bring freedom to East Germany. Dreading nuclear war with the U.S.S.R kept the U.S.A. at bay for more than four decades.

Otherwise, somebody should have knocked down that wall, cut through the barbed wire, and gotten rid off the explosive trenches separating East and West the minute they were put up.

Nevertheless, after the Wende (German term for: turn of events), this euphoric state did not last very long and as soon as the honeymoon phase was over, we could watch former East Germans being interviewed in talk shows. Some had good things to say, some were rather disappointed in our land of milk and honey. Some blamed communism for their so-called personality deformation and problems in adjusting to their new life. Guess one could call that a culture shock, which most East Germans were not familiar with, having been stuck behind the Iron Curtain their whole life.

One of the many surprising statements was given by a former East German female employee in regards to child care. In communistic East Germany, she had been allowed 20 weeks of paid sick leave a year to care for a sick child at home and coming to Western Germany, she found one week of paid sick leave for child care not enough. She probably had not considered the value of job performance in a capitalistic state. Jobs in the communistic society were redundant at times and often most boring to the point, that some mothers would put their infants out on the balcony overnight to catch a cold. Staying home with a sick child would do nothing to harm one’s job security. This must have been quite a shocking welcome to the new world of capitalism!

The Fall of the Wall caught us all by surprise. I think even if I had stayed informed on a daily basis, which then led up to this historical event, I would not have held it possible. Change is slow to come to most Germans – it took an American vision to get it started.

Book by Romesh Ratnesar, also contributor to TIME Magazine:

Tear Down This Wall: A City, a President, and the Speech that Ended the Cold War

Tear Down This Wall: A City, a President, and the Speech that Ended the Cold War

Tear Down This Wall: A City, a President, and the Speech That Ended the Cold War


  1. Wow… Nowadays I wouldn’t be able to imagine a divided Germany.


  1. […] of the blogosphere is buzzing about this today, as are the mainstream media. And one of the biggest questions being asked is […]

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